AWeber Curate: Mobile App

Building a native mobile product for iOS and Android using the lean startup process

The Curate mobile app was the closest I’ve come to checking off every valuable (and lean) product development milestone during the course of a project. For that reason, it’s an example of my work of which I’m most proud.

 

I did preliminary research with users, prototype testing, user interviews, alpha testing, beta testing and post-launch user outreach. At each new stage of the project, our users were helping us guide the direction. And we shipped new code constantly. It was a dream project.

 

My Role: UXD, Product Owner

For the first half of the product development cycle, our team (AWeber Mobile Team) lacked an official product manager, so I filled that role as well as being the user experience designer throughout the entire project.

 

Why “Curate?” Some context...

Content curation has taken off as an effective strategy amongst content marketers. Through research, I discovered that there was a gap between how users were finding and saving articles and content, and their process of building a newsletter. I knew that we could bridge that gap with a mobile app.

 

The timing was perfect. We could use the activities of sharing and curating that people were already naturally engaged in everyday—using native OS-based sharing functionality—and also leverage the improved standards for metadata brought about by social media and Facebook’s OpenGraph protocol. I was lucky; I thoroughly understood the possibilities and the limitations of metadata due to my past work in SEO. 

The Audience

AWeber users are largely what is known as “solopreneurs” (that is, entrepreneurs who operate alone), content marketers, and other kinds of small business owners. They’re using email marketing as an important part of their overall marketing strategy. The key characteristic: Small business owners are extremely busy, and always looking for ways to save time. Curate was designed with that in mind; shortening the amount of time it takes to build a meaningful newsletter.

AWeber mobile apps are released for both Android and iOS systems, and maintain parity in terms of features. Therefore, I kept the habits and expectations of both of those distinct audiences top-of-mind as well.

 

The Problem

The #1 task performed by AWeber customers is content creation: writing and formatting email marketing messages. Up until 2015, this was only possible for AWeber customers on the web app, which was not usable on mobile devices. We wanted to give our mobile-oriented users the opportunity to compose and send emails on their hand-held devices.

The Big Questions

We knew there was demand for mobile access to an email composer, but…

  • How much demand? 

  • And for how much functionality? 

  • How much content creating were people willing to do on a mobile device? 

  • How do mobile devices fit into this audience’s overall workflow? 

  • What kind of mobile app will make our users more successful, and more excited about email? 

I set about on multiple research quests to find the answers.

The Team

Our team was made up of two iOS developers, two Android developers, one back-end developer, one UI designer and one UX designer / product owner (me).

Our team was made up of two iOS developers, two Android developers, one back-end developer, one UI designer and one UX designer / product owner (me).

Our team was made up of two iOS developers, two Android developers, one back-end developer, one UI designer and one UX designer / product owner (me).

The Process

Via the lean startup model, I knew that staying inside of a customer feedback loop was going to make the end product much stronger. But I took this idea one step further, because I decided that everyone on the team — developers included — were going to be exposed to user research in real time instead of hearing about the results from me afterwards. (I did this by creating Slack rooms for each beta user group.) And this was key, considering we wanted users to steer the product’s focus. We steadfastly maintained this user feedback loop throughout every stage in the app’s development.

“The lean process made the connection to our customers very real. It was extremely motivating to hear that customers liked what we are creating. And when customers identified needs that the app didn’t fulfill, I feel it really enabled me and the team to put this information to use first-hand in a quick turn around.”

 

Lead iOS developer on Curate

My Approach

Target audience interviews
I conducted interviews with small business owners about their habits of collecting, storing, sharing and generating content. I got to understand how they used mobile devices in this process.

Market research

I conducted market research on email newsletters, collecting dozens of popular, and minor, newsletters so I could dissect their anatomy and make sure that Curate’s template met our users’ needs. 

Prototype testing
I created a quick, interactive prototype from wireframes that I dropped into a Marvel project. I put this prototype in front of a real AWeber customers and spent an hour with each exploring their reaction to the prototype, their business model, content workflow, and more. The entire product team observed the tests.

anatomy of a newsletter
mobile app wireframe prototype

Alpha testing
I took what we learned from the prototype tests and created a much improved concept which the team built into a crude yet functional app. We distributed it to the rest of the organization for alpha testing. Throughout the alpha period, our team released new code almost daily, and feedback kept pouring in.

Closed beta testing 
As I opened the beta study for Curate, I really accelerated user research. I invited hundreds of AWeber customers into the beta pool, opting for a closed beta study so that the feedback was manageable, and strictly coming from engaged AWeber customers. I used Slack to gather feedback from users.

The truth hurts. When running a beta study, be prepared for honesty.

Sketching and wireframing
The nature of a lean process requires rapid wireframing and a high level of collaboration on a constant basis. There were times during this project that I had the luxury of time to create high-fidelity, annotated wireframes, but often I was pulling some team members into a meeting room and hashing out ideas for the UI on a whiteboard. We would photograph the sketches and move them straight into design.

Results*

AWeber Announces New App "Curate": First-Ever Mobile App that Curates Online Content into Ready-to-Send Email Newsletters

 

Curate hit the app stores on May 1, 2016. I observed usage for a few months, allowing our product marketing to take effect. After four months I contacted about 10 users who had shown repeat usage of Curate and interviewed them about their likes and dislikes with the app. Their answers did not surprise me or the rest of team.

The problems with a lean startup process and aiming to release an MVP (minimum viable product) are widely known by those of us who work in software development. Getting something to market becomes so tantalizing that we take “minimum” too far and release a product that leaves users unsatisfied and frustrated. As a user experience professional, (and amateur gadfly) I press for more than what others press for when it comes to a "viable" product; I'm there to represent the user. However, I am grateful and have learned a lot from clever, careful product owners who wield the scalpel wisely. The tension between us is most likely to result in balance.

*For confidentiality reasons, I cannot publish any actual usage metrics or provide feature requests I heard from customers following Curate’s release. Nor will I name the names of those who wield the scalpel unwisely.

That's me presenting my beta test tactics for product owners at a recent ProductTank Philly meetup.

© 2018 by Grace Stoeckle 

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